Friday, 6 April 2018

pomp and circumstance

Though the re-discovery of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii buried in the pyroclastic ash of the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD is sourced to the excavations by Spanish engineer Roque Joaquín de Alcubierre in the service of the Duke of Parma that began on 6 April 1748, history records at least one previous rediscovery of the long-forgotten settlement. A century and a half earlier, a workman discovered some frescos and inscribed walls whilst digging a ditch and summoned a respected architect from Naples, Domenico Fontana (the same who oversaw the transportation and erection of those Egyptian obelisks in Rome) who assessed the site.
Either out of farsightedness or simple prudishness, Fontana ordered the artefacts reburied and not to be discussed again. Italy during the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation perhaps did not have the artistic sensibilities to appreciate what was uncovered. Sort of equivalent to having neglected to delete one’s browsing history (to couch it in modern terms as death came swift and unexpectedly), archaeologists found and continue to find quite a lot of erotic art and imagery and the public was not quite prepared for it. In fact when King Francis of the Two Sicilies visited an exhibition of artefacts collected from Pompeii with the queen and princess, he was so mortified that he decreed that the explicit material be sequestered in a secret Neapolitan museum (Gabinetto Segreto—obviously NSFW) that only admitted mature adults whose morals were above question. One is given to wonder on how many occasions the finds of the past were subject to censorship when it did not fit our collective or personal narrative.  Closed and reopened numerous times over the ensuing centuries according to society’s norms and mores, it was last reopened in 2000 with people under the age of eighteen still not admitted unless accompanied by a guardian.